With Kyler Murray out with ACL injury, what’s the QB plan for Cardinals?

Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort put his franchise in better position for the future in this year’s draft, moving around the board to accumulate 11 picks for the 2024 draft, including two firsts, a second and three third-round picks. That’s six selections in the top 100. 

But while the future looks bright for player acquisition, the Cardinals still face a daunting task in the present: How do they replace one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL in Kyler Murray?

The 25-year-old Oklahoma product is rehabbing from ACL surgery on his right knee performed in January. ACL injuries generally require nine to 12 months for a full recovery, putting Murray’s best-case timetable to return sometime in September, but more likely during the second half of the 2023 season. 

New Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon is trying to be patient, wanting to make sure Murray comes back healthy.

“I know he’s making strides,” Gannon told reporters. “He’s a long way away, but we don’t play for a long time either. I feel good with where he’s at.” 

This offseason, Arizona selected Houston’s Clayton Tune in the fifth round of the draft and signed journeyman Jeff Driskel in free agency. They join Colt McCoy and David Blough already on the roster as possible options to start the regular season with Murray still on the mend. 

Can one of these four quarterbacks hold down the offense and keep the Cardinals respectable until Murray returns? Or should Arizona consider other options outside the organization to further bolster the quarterback room?

Here’s a closer look at Arizona’s options at quarterback: 

The frontrunner: Colt McCoy 

McCoy has been Murray’s backup since the 2021 season. In that role, the Texas product is 2-2 as a starter, completing 71% of his passes for 1,520 yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Those are solid numbers for an occasional starter and give Arizona a chance to stay with other teams in the NFC West at the start of the season until Murray is fully healthy. At 36 years old, McCoy is an experienced veteran with great leadership skills and command of the offense. He can get players lined up and in the right play pre-snap and execute at a winning level. He’s scheduled to make $3.75 million in 2023, with $2.25 million guaranteed.

For his NFL career, McCoy is 11-25 as a starter, completing 62.6% of his passes for 7,975 yards, with 34 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. 

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The problem for McCoy has been staying healthy. He suffered a neck injury during the second half of 2022 and then a concussion in mid-December that forced him to miss the rest of the season. Symptoms from those injuries lingered into the offseason. 

If the Cardinals go with McCoy as the guy to start the regular season, they need to have insurance behind him in case he gets injured. 

In the hunt: David Blough

The Cardinals claimed Blough off the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad at the end of last season. He started the final two games of 2022, completing 38 of 58 passes (65.5%) for 402 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Blough signed a one-year, $1.23 million deal during the offseason. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Purdue product offers some movement skills and the ability to create plays outside the pocket. 

Still, the 27-year-old Blough’s overall skill set isn’t overwhelming, and the Cardinals may want to look at a developmental prospect with more upside to develop long-term behind Murray. 

Long shot: Jeff Driskel

The Cardinals signed Driskel to a one-year, $1.035 million contract this offseason to add competition to the quarterback room. Driskel has played for four teams in five NFL seasons and spent the past two years with the Houston Texans.

The Florida native is 1-9 as a starter, completing 59.2% of his passes for 2,228 yards, with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. A good athlete, Driskel also has rushed for 324 yards and three scores.

At 30 years old, Driskel’s best years seem to be in the rearview mirror. But no one expected Geno Smith to experience a rebirth last season at age 32, so anything is possible. For now, Driskel appears to be competing for a backup job as insurance behind McCoy. 

Long shot: Clayton Tune

The Cardinals selected the Houston product in the fifth-round of this year’s draft. Tune worked with Arizona quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork at the Senior Bowl when Woolfork was part of the Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff. 

A four-year starter for the Cougars, Tune completed 64% of his passes for 11,994 yards, with 104 touchdown passes and 41 interceptions. Tune ran a 4.64-second, 40-yard time and posted a 37.5-inch vertical jump at the combine, so he’s a good athlete who could execute zone-read plays designed for Murray.

And Tune is not short on confidence, proclaiming himself the best quarterback in this year’s draft.

“I’m confident in who I am and how I play,” Tune said. “My goal is to just come in here and work. I’m not that type of guy to try to act like I’m this or that. But I’m very confident in my abilities.” 

Wild-card: Carson Wentz

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Wentz has fizzled in his last two stops with the Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Commanders.

Still, Wentz is only 30 years old and remains available in free agency. He’s 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, possesses good arm talent and could be an interesting reclamation project for the Cardinals as Murray heals. The Los Angeles Rams tried something similar with Baker Mayfield last season. 

Wild-card: Bryce Perkins

Perkins spent his first three seasons in the NFL with the Rams after signing as an undrafted rookie. He was underwhelming in his first and only start for Los Angeles last season, completing 56% of his passes for 161 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 24-10 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

A Phoenix-area native, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Perkins has good movement skills and could do some similar things as Murray. The 26-year-old Virginia product remains a free agent might be worth taking a flyer on for the Cardinals. 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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